Agricultural Tourism and cultural revival in the Val D’Orcia in South Tuscany

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Agricultural tourism provides a bridge between agricultureandcultural tourism .

Agricultural tourism, or ”agritourism”, is an attractive  alternative to improve the income and potential economic viability of small farms, rural communities and whole regions. A closer look to the great variety of well developed  agritouristic enterprises in the Val d‘ Orcia in southern Tuscany reveals the astonishing success of this new kind of tourism. My following concerns try to give insight into cultural and economical mechanism making this possible.

1. Agritourism and rural life
Cultural revival  - the rediscovery of forgotten and dispersed cultural elements – is very much linkend to agritourism in rural italy. For the last two decades the implementation  – with support by the european comunity in brussel – of agritourism in the Val d’Orcia shows an increasing success by attracting potential visitors to rural life and its traditions. It satisfies the desire of an increasing number of people to experience authentic traditions, traditional knowledge and approach cultural roots. Many people working in agriculture realized the oppurtunity of restoring and creating space on their farms to hospitate tourists. The automatization of the agriculture cut a lot of work and tourism in our days helps to avoid the "esodo del paese” the escape from countryside by creating new posts of work. This tendency leads on the other side – in hosting communities – to new collective identity and legitimation of common habits and common live.
Cultural patterns of this tendency can be defined. A small village new siena f.i. has an incredible success every summer with its amateur-theater. A large number of inhabitants – from schoolchildren to the older generation – participate at these events dealing with the local approach to tourism, but also sms and gameboy-age , genetic and nanotechnology. The result is a strong sense of what is ”us” and what is ”them”. ”Noi di Monticchiello”, ”we from Monticchiello” therefore is a terminus often used. Like ”we enjoy progress but nothing which goes beyond a human dimension” because ”we regard certain innovations crucial to human life”. But the theaterplays also give a smile to what was reality in the past. Its not yust gloryfiing everthing which was part of a so called ”great past”. It puts an eye on the ”how” and puts a questionmark on the ”how” things are confrontated today, being a critical observer. One of the main protagonists of the theatro, Lucino Grappi, peasant and living with grandfather and brother in the same podere, asks ironicly about the increasing touristic invasion every summer: ”Shall we sell tinned countryside-air?” Apart from new sources of income Tourism brought recognition for local products like terracotta (pottery), wine and cheese. The sheep-cheese ”pecorino” originally introduced by the sardiniens in this area (people migrating from the island sardinia in the sixties) has become a famous synonym for a high quality product from rural tuscany.
Cultural identity means here – as we can observe - to deal with todays life without reproducing past but to create new selfunderstanding.

2. Trends in agritourism
Creating a visitor profile of the kind of tourists interested in agritourism is very difficult due to their diversity of interests and the general lack of targeted market research. Thus, only general comments can be given here, based on the results of practical experience in tuscany agritourism destinations. Whatever the motivation though, almost everybody is looking for a personal experience. After all, the only thing left after a holiday is a memory, if the holiday was not satisfactory it is not possible to take it back and get it replaced. As a consequence, the choice of holiday is very much based on non tangible factorssuch as feelings, moods, fashions, trends, … .
Especially the representation of tuscany in the media (movies, advertising, life of well known people etc.) forms images people like to ”re-experience”and to fulfill in reality. The criterium of so called ”authentic experiences” though experiences which a characteristical for – todays -  rural life might be subject of further research – as the questions who rises and creates such criteria is very interesting.
Tourists in search of natural and cultural heritage seem to look for a wide range of different attractions and activities designed to satisfy different needs, be they for learning, relaxation, recreation or adventure, amongst others. Some are highly seasonal, but most can be done all year round or in the low season as well (thus allowing the tourism season to be extended). Some can be undertaken in a couple of hours, others need a couple of days, and yet others may require people to stay a week of more. The following are some examples of activities that can be developed using natural and cultural heritage:

Nature tourism:
_ walking, hiking, cycling;
_ general sightseeing and outdoors, admiring scenery, picnicking, swimming … ;
_ wildlife viewing : birdwatching, dear-watching … ;
_ visiting nature reserves and park visitor centres;
_ horse riding, sailing, boating;
_ hunting, fishing, harvesting (olive and wine harvest);
_ participating in nature conservation.

Adventure tourism:
_ rock climbing, mountain biking, paragliding;
_ orienteering, leadership building;
_ incentive tours (for companies).

Education tourism:
_ field courses in conservation, species identification, rehabilitation;
_ courses in local cuisine, making handicrafts, restoration ;
_ courses in music, painting, language, photography;
_ learning about local history, art, heritage.

Culture tourism:
_visiting historical villages and cities;
_ festivals and events, banquets;
_ music, theatre, shows;
_ village life and rural life (e.g. farms, Sunday markets,);
_ gastronomy, visiting/tasting local products;
_ general sightseeing, village buildings and 'atmosphere' ;
_ visiting historic and religious monuments or vernacular buildings, ruins;
_ famous people in the region.

Normally, provided these activities are carefully planned, they should be environmentally friendly as they are non-consumptive. However, certain extreme forms of adventure sports, especially when 'off piste' (sight-seeing in rural communities, mountain biking in natural reserves ect.) can be very destructive even in small quantities. The same is true for consumptive activities that are not properly managed or regulated (different sports, car/motorcycle races etc.)

Some studies have indicated that the more stressful people’s working environment is, the more they find the countryside reassuring. The less people have a sense of direction and security, the more they seek others who are firmly rooted in their community, the more 'industrial' the products, the more people look for authentic situations and exchange …
Such trends are useful to monitor as they will undoubtedly influence future market trends and opportunities of agritourism.

3. Typical tourist profiles
Creating a visitor profile of the typical nature or culture tourist is equally difficult. So much
depends on their backgrounds and on what they are looking for once they are on the spot. In very general terms though, it seems that mayoraty of these tourists tend to be in the 39-59 age bracket range and are generally better educated, have a broader travel experience, are more quality conscious, and sensitive to environmental and social concerns. They also regularly take holidays outside normal peak seasons. This, coupled with the fact that Europe's population is getting older, but staying active longer, means that seasonality should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat for this form of tourism.
In terms of booking their holidays, most tend to travel independently rather than through tour operators or holiday packages (except for ecotourists who use organised trips to help them see what it is they are interested in). The length of stay varies depending on the time of year, is generally around 7 days or less. As far as the choice of destination is concerned there are no clear preferences, although the Mediterranean remains very popular (as do areas close to the traditional tourist destinations, no doubt because they are easier to get to, familiar and less costly). A recent survey undertaken of brochures issued by specialist tour operators in the UK identified almost as many destinations as tour operators, which seems to confirm that there is substantial choice but no obvious geographical preferences.
Because of the range of interests it may be more useful therefore to make a distinction between the committed tourist, the interested tourist and the casual tourist.

- The committed tourist plans a holiday so that the activity accounts for the majority of his/her holiday time. Birdwatching, hiking, working with nature, participating in educational courses fit into this category. Birdwatching in particular is said to be one of the fastest growing outdoor pastimes in the world, wildlife viewing is growing by approximately 10-12% per annum in the international market. Whilst this type of tourism tends to make up only a small part of the total tourism market, it is nevertheless interesting because it tends to be quite lucrative and is not
necessarily seasonal. These tourists also have a high level of environmental and social awareness.

- The interested tourist plans his/her trip in order to be able to spend some time on a particular interest without focussing exclusively on it. They actively search for this type of attraction and choose adestination accordingly. They also have a high level of environmental sensitivity but in a less ‘purist’way. Walking, cycling, visiting nature reserves, attending festivals and events tend to fall into this category. These activities have a strong drawing power, which is important for gaining a competitive edge and encouraging return visits. The interested tourist is also likely to stay longer in order to try out other activities even if this is on a more seasonal basis.
Walking for instance, is a major preoccupation for Europeans these days. In Scotland, walking
accounts for 18% of all tourism expenditure, in 1998 the walking market generated an estimated 1.1 million trips, during which visitors spent over €600 million. This activity is considered to have excellent prospects for the future - provided it is carefully developed and marketed.

- Finally, the casual tourist is unlikely to plan his/her holiday in function of any one particular activity, but may be strongly influenced by the sheer diversity of attractions available and by the ease of access. These people tend to be more interested in the destination as a whole - the social and natural environment, beautiful scenery, attractive villages, local hospitality, with a range of things to see and do. As such it is likely to be of most appeal to the domestic and regional
market, as well as families.

4. Market potential of agritourism
Whilst some very general indications have been given in this chapter as to the possible
profile and tendencies of tourists interested in nature and culture, there is clearly a need for more coordinated and large-scale market research on this subject. The information would not only help to identify visitor profiles and expectations, but also provide more accurate information on the market potential for these different market segments. Whilst most tour operators and tourism policy makers predict a sustained and continued growth in agritourism, i want to ask about the diversification of this market.
There is a strong tendency to more luxury touristic infrastructure (swimming pools, TV in the room etc., high quality finishing of rural housing) and therefore increasing weekly rates. It looks like that the standards visitors request in rural tuscany expect (f.i. in three star hotels and better) is becoming the niveau epected in agritourism. The same moment a great number of people appreciate more simple housing for moderate prices which a closer to the original spirit of countryside life – not asking for standards they expect in hotels.

5. Benefits of agritourism and general conclusions
Italy’s rural economy has undergone significant changes over the last fifty years. Farmers, who represent the mainstay of the rural communities and economy have been under sustained pressure to modernise and industrialise their farming methods, particularly over the last fifty years. In most of rural italy, this led to a gradual but steady out migration from the countryside. As a result, many small villages in umbria, lazio and south italy are today struggling to remain alive despite massive efforts by local, regional and national governments to combat this trend. If the villages go, then so does the areas' cultural heritage, and much of the man influenced natural heritage too.
In such an environment, agritourism as practised in tuscany, with its spectacular marketing, presents an image of prosperity. This, together with the increasing interest in natural and cultural heritage, could provide a real life belt for many rural and remote areas in Europe. The following lists some of the reasons:

- New employment opportunities: Due to its service orientation, tourism is hard to automate, as a result it remains a very labour-intensive market, capable of bringing in significant new employment opportunities and skills, especially for young people. A carefull estimate also gives proof that investions in agritourism payed back very well.

-Diversity and stability in the local economy: Agritourism consists of a highly complex system of activities and services, which cuts across a wide range of sectors. As a result, tourism expenditures not only create direct benefits for tourism-related businesses such as agritouristc structures, visitor attractions, restaurants etc., but also indirect benefits in other sectors such as local production of diverse local products, manufacturing and construction. It can, for instance, increase the demand for local food products, furniture supplies for local hotels or create new markets for handicrafts.

-Increased income and taxes generated by new jobs and businesses can be used to maintain
or enhance local infrastructure and services. The overall environmental quality and access of an area may also be improved since tourists prefer to visit attractive, clean and non-polluted places and want to have a good infrastructure for easy access. Furthermore, agritourism can, if properly handled, build up a sense of community spirit and cooperation and help 'put the heart back' into a village or community.

-Conservation of local natural and cultural heritage: Agritourism helps to develop a sense of pride and awareness about the area’s local natural and cultural assets. This, in turn, may encourage a greater understanding and sympathy for their restoration and protection, and so help to ensure more funds are channelled their way.
The list of potential benefits is impressive, but it is important to recognise that agritourism
is not the only
solution to a struggling rural economy. Forcing its development through
generalised governmental policies and funds without taking into account the
constraints and pitfalls could prove to be disastrous. Tourism is a very competitive and
dynamic business, based on free market principles, and dominated by information and
promotional techniques. As a result, there is a high level of risk involved for a relatively
low economic return, especially amongst the more specialised markets.
If rural areas are to develop tourism based on their natural and cultural heritage they
must be able to overcome the following constraints:

-The lack of an organised structure in the tourism business: Developing a tourism
product requires a high degree of coordination and collaboration all along the
tourism chain.

-The lack of qualifications and training: Skills are needed in business management,
marketing and customer care, amongst others. Yet, many people in rural areas are
usually insufficiently trained to be able to respond to the challenges of tourism or
to take on qualified jobs. In addition, tourism professionals are too infrequently

- Lack of support from other sectors:
Public sector support is particularly important
in ensuring there is an infrastructure in place for the influx of tourists (signposts,
roads ...) and a favourable climate for encouraging small business enterprises.
Lack of resources and political will amongst local authorities makes it very difficult
to initiate sustainable agritourism development. The tourist business also relies
heavily on the cooperation and participation of other sectors, for instance through
services or base materials, or through access to the natural or cultural heritage on
private land.

- Seasonality: Agritourism tends to be a very seasonal activity. As a consequence, it could take some time to pay off an initial investment and to start making a profit. It also means that the new jobs on offer, because of their seasonal nature and sometimes long working hours, may not be enough to attract sufficient or qualified staff, particularly amongst the
younger population.

- Lack of control over outside influences:
Agritourism is an image industry and therefore
very sensitive to the macro-environmental and social conditions and forces outside
the direct control of the local tourism businesses - this makes the tourism business
vulnerable to changing fashions and trends and to negative impacts.

- Potential social conflicts:
A significant influx of tourists may cause over-crowding
and congestion, disrupt the delicate social fabric of the area and provoke a clash of
cultures. It can also lead to inflationary land and real estate prices and goods.

- Damage to natural and cultural heritage: Most natural areas are fragile and can easily be damaged. This puts a limit on the number of visitors who can access the site. If it is too high it will end up destroying the very thing that attracts them. Cultural heritage may also suffer, especially if it is of the immaterial kind. There is a real risk that traditions and lifestyles become trivialised and over- commercialised which will destroy their authenticity and value.

6. Particular issues for agritourism based on natural and cultural heritage
The above lists the classic opportunities and risks associated with any form of new
tourism development in rural areas. There are, however, a number of additional factors
that should be borne in mind when dealing with natural and cultural heritage.

- Cultural and the environmental heritage cannot be produced:
They exist because
of history and geography and cannot be created easily in the short term. This
means that destinations need to work with what they have. If their intrinsic appeal
is low or only moderate it will be very difficult for the area to gain a competitive
edge over other destinations. The tendency to add attractions by means of exessive financial investments should rather be avoided. Better to concentrate on the so called ”Compared advantages” of a region/ area.
(in my scientific research i developed a practicable approach to sensitive areas which integrate important cultural and socio-cultural issues )

- Cultural and natural attractions are mostly a public resource: Tourists rarely have
to pay to see nature and most of culture – e.g. to visit nature reserves, landscapes, village architecture…. It is therefore mostly the private businesses, who develop a derived product around this public resource, that reap the economic rewards. But there is no automatic mechanism for ensuring that some of this income is put back into maintaining and enhancing the cultural and natural heritage itself. This applies even at the level of the local authority. The additional tax revenues generated from successful tourism are not usually allocated, as a priority, to preserving the cultural or heritage resources. Here is a responsable local roundtable requested.

- Damage to natural and cultural resources are extremely difficult to measure:
Tourism inevitably impacts on the natural and cultural resources of a particular destination but its interrelationship is extremely complex and very difficult to quantify. There is no universal formula for determining carrying capacities for sites (i.e. the number of people that can visit the site without causing significant damage to it) as so much depends on the particular circumstances of the area. A number of institutions, e.g. various associations represented at the Reisepavilion Hannover and the ITB Berlin have started to develop indicators of sustainability, but these are also still in their infancy. As a result, even if there was a way to internalise the costs of protecting and maintaining this resource it will be very difficult to decide on how much should be allocated to it. If it is already difficult to assess damage, it will be even trickier to determine the cost of this damage or to mitigate against potential damage in the development phase.

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updated: octobre 2011 contact me